tv Tavis Smiley WHUT October 16, 2012 8:00am-8:30am EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. in just over 20 days, americans will head to the polls to determine the outcome of one of the most closely watched presidential campaigns in u.s. history. in a look at the state of the race and a preview of tuesday night's second presidential debate with the national affairs editor for new york magazine and co-author of the best selling text "game change." we are glad you have joined us. a conversation coming out right now. >> there is a saying that dr. king had said, there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out.
>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: job as the national affairs editor for new york magazine and a political analyst for msn bc. he wrote the best-selling book "game change. his election issue of new york magazine is on newsstands and he joins us tonight from new york. thank you for coming back. >> i am happy to be here. tavis: glad to have you.
let me start with the obvious. tomorrow is a big night for the president. i suspect the format of this town hall set up that is very different from mano a mano might play differently to both of these guys but it doesn't put him in the position of having to be the enforcer tomorrow night. what do you make of that statement? >> the stakes are very high. people joke about these debates allot, but the president was widely received as a huge failure in denver two weeks ago. several million people watched that speech, more people than watched the debate in 2008 or more people that have ever seen the state of the union and he pretty much had a big belly flop. a lot of people around the country saw that debate and it has become an urban legend.
like an alligator can out of the sioux were at 8 barack obama. i think the audience tomorrow night is going to be huge and people want to know, can he come back? what is his -- and what is his performance going to be like? governor romney has a lot of pressure on him. in terms of the format, it makes it harder when you are answering questions from voters. u-turn and give it to an attack on your opponent. there are a lot of things that president obama wants to contrast. it is harder to do that when you are answering a question. i think president obama will be faced with some difficult questions. the hardest question is someone going to say, i love you in 2008, i with dealing with
actual human beings in almost wanted you to succeed, but you have really disappointed me. what will you tell me that will be different? and governor romney has never been goodany setting. ok, so that is a very high risk and high reward situation for him. he has moved his favorability numbers up considerably. if he knocks it out of the park, it could be a huge win for him. if he falters, it will be eradicated pretty quickly. if president obama faces that question, someone will say to governor romney, i work 40 hours a week but i am a member of the working poor. i don't pay income taxes. he said i am part of the 47% that is a mature and you can't help. explain to me why i possibly vote for someone that has that attitude. we will see how he reacts.
tavis: i could not agree more with everything you have just said, which is what i was trying to say what i say if it plays to mr. obama is advantage. i did not say as well as you. that is what i was getting at, the format place to the president's advantage, dealing with human beings. the stakes are high tomorrow night, but i would be much more concerned if i am an obama supporter, more concerned on a one-on-one settings, more heartened by the fact that at least he is talking to everyday people. the toughest question he gets, he knows is coming tomorrow night. >> he had it in a town hall with cnbc, and i imagine he will be prepared for that kind of question. the other thing i am heartened by his by history. president obama has had bad performances in the past.
particularly against hillary clinton that tried to clean his clock that a lot of those primary debates. president obama has a history, a great fourth quarter player. he doesn't seem batting cage, he exhibits some platitudes and he is not really fully there. speaking historically, when his back is against the wall, the stakes are highest and he usually rises to the occasion. an extraordinarily competitive politician. he knows how badly he did back in denver. it was a supporter of the president rooting for him, i would be counting on that history he has had of rising to big moments where he absolutely needed to win. tavis: i agree with you again that the president and his competitor, there are all kinds of stories and detailed articles written about his persona in the way that he often rises to the
occasion. i am not into hot psychology, but what does this have to do with the fact that joe biden put some heat on him? that he was so good, he -- democrats believe that joe biden was so good that the president needs to step up his game cannot be i shined by his own vice president. >> some of that is true. and the other thing that biden did for president obama, reaction is split upon partisan ryan's -- lines. republicans thought he was rude and kind of a jerk. democrats thought he he was all part and they loved it. that has been one of the debates were the reactions were split pretty much down party lines. what he did more importantly is he through the kitchen sink at paul ryan.
every argument he can possibly make. 47%, medicare, taxes, abortion. and what the obama team has done over the last year for days is they have showed that to a lot of focus groups and a lot of voters. they look to try to find out which of those arguments at home and which of those at attraction. allowing the president to cherry pick from his performance the homing on issues that seem to have the most traction with voters. when you see president obama focus on one or two of those issues, those are the ones that resonate. tavis: is there any way that the debate tomorrow night between obama and ronnie could crawl a more stark contrast between the choices between biden and ryan? i have a hard time believing how either one of them make a lot
more definitively clear. >> part of the reason for that is governor romney doesn't want it to be started. -- stark. whether you say he was evasive, untruthful, pivoting, or whatever you call it, he clearly made the move to the metal in one fell swoop. he did not gradually edged towards the center from having been out further in the extreme, he did not do it gradually. he did it in one big chunk, and i think he has been talking about bipartisanship. it works trying to get to the center, talking about bipartisanship and adopting a much softer tone. he will try to obscure the clarity of the choice. tavis: with the moderate romney show up? >> absolutely.
a lot of things went right for the debate in denver. i think they also really feel that him going back to what they see as his moderate and pragmatic massachusetts' route was a winner for them with the voters. i think they will double down on that. tavis: it was about foreign policy exclusively but it doesn't mean that it won't come up tomorrow night. in answer to some question, whether it is relevant or not, he is going to get that yen. what is your sense over the last few days about what they think they are making on the libya issue and what they are trying to hide? >> and the president is playing a bad hand here. at the facts are bad. the administration has not satisfactorily accounted for what happened.
we don't know if it was an intelligence failure, some kind of a cover-up, the stories have changed. most voters don't care and are focused on issues that are closer to home. i think it is all of the governor romney. seizing on this issue, as with the case with a lot of foreign policy issues, tried to use it as a metaphor for strength. president obama has had the lead in foreign policy and is seen as a strong early. that is traditionally where republicans have strength. i think governor romney sees this as a way of taking away from president obama is a strength -- obama's strength. they think they have a winning hand on the feed, if not because the actual issue is going to change very many votes on the ground. tavis: if you are undecided,
what are you undecided about? >> i think there is a subset of a very small group, it has been true for a month. i think you have people that are mostly in the category of the "i like president obama, i wanted him to succeed, the economy has not improved to the extent i hoped it would. i am not totally confident or trusting of the economic management and his ability to make washington work when he ran in 2008. i am not sure that governor romney appreciates my struggles. i am not sure that he understands the average person and what they have to go through. i don't know that he shares my values or cares about me. they are still uncomfortable,
but they are not yet sold on governor romney. it is some combination of things. the responses that will bring those people to have decision over the next few weeks. tavis: sequestration is a good word on the scrabble game and it is a horrible word for politics. it might come out tomorrow night as well, mr. ryan has advanced in the media the notion that if they were to win, there would be a better chance at making sure that these automatic cuts that most americans have heard about are scheduled to kick in after the first of the year will not taken because they will be in the white house and have a much better chance of working with republicans to avoid u.s. going over that cliff. is that an argument he can sell effectively tomorrow night? >> governor romney has said that he doesn't want those issues to be dealt with in a lame-duck
session. the sequestration vote which is $500 billion in defense cuts, $500 billion in cuts to social programs and discretionary spending, they would have to be kicked down the road until after he got inaugurated. i think it is one of the most powerful arguments he has always had, which is to say that before the campaign, he was going to be post partisan and bring the capital the other and move us past of the mindless polarization of the last 20 years. you and i both know that there is plenty of blame to go round, republicans have opposed president obama throughout his term. president obama has not worked with capitol hill with republicans or democrats particularly well. he was the one that promised to fix it in his campaign.
he brought this up with his convention speech and he is bringing it home, the simple argument of why would a voter think that the next four years, president obama will make washington work together? why will he be able to work with republicans the next four years? i think it has an intuitive appeal. tavis: the article about bill and hillary clinton, as you know, we have been talking about poverty and we have discussed this together. i have been troubled by the fact that in the first two debates, i was told they did a much better job than jim lehrer did. respectfully. but no question about poverty. the numbers are very clear. it is threatening our very democracy.
you know the story line as well as i do, but no moderator has asked the question directly about poverty and the poor. tomorrow night, might we get a question about that specifically from someone that is living in impoverished conditions? >> i hope so. is a way tok there downplay poverty, but the one thing i will say is that he did a great job. that debate was 70 minutes on foreign policy. if you match that with most americans, if that is not whose last three of their concerns, we have not talked about poverty or immigration. we have not talked about gay marriage, sensitive social issues. i have no idea what is going on in the heads of voters. moderating this third debate,
she gets to call the questions from the audience and she gets to choose who gets to speak. i am sure she will be focused on some issues that have not been aired in the first two. poverty is incredibly important, incredibly important to you. i think that both candidates know which ones have not asked. there are probably pretty well prepared answer those questions. some of those issues are not being raised on the campaign trail. tavis: to the issue of new york magazine, it is a wonderful cover that lays out a variety of issues. you get top billing and a wonderful piece about the clintons. i was anxious to get to it because everybody knows that bill did his thing at the democratic convention.
he is back in full effect. >> the most striking thing to me, they have been the development of his importance in this race. there is no one in the obama world -- many people at the senior levels of that campaign said to me that his speech was the single most important moment of the campaign so far. we could see it in poland and for this groups, that is when the corner got turned on president obama's ratings as an economic manager. he i bit ahead of them, and the right track- wrong track. literally the moment that bill clinton stopped speaking, no president, not even me, could have fixed the problems in just four years. that is probably the most important single sentence. it is amazing, if you remember how much bitterness there was
between president obama and bill clinton together. the story is how the two of them got over that alienation between the two of them over the course of the last four years. the longtime clinton person says, it is totally transactional and highly functional relationship now. they are both getting something out of it and they care about the policies that president obama represents which is almost entirely the same policy that bill clinton inherited -- embrace. tavis: what does clinton get out of this relationship at this point your comment a moment ago? >> i think president clinton gets a couple of things out of it. he knows bill clinton as well as anybody, he loves to be needed as much as he needs to be loved.
he is needed in this campaign, and you can tell, again, they have said to me, bill clinton didn't win this election, you're giving too much credit to him. if you go across the country, and they run the bill clinton ads making a case for obama is re-election, 16,000 times in the swing states. there are advertisements out there that show bill clinton and president obama as if they were running mates. that is really great for his ego. he gets to see clintonism. what he brought into the world. his rightful place, barack obama ran as an antidote to clinton. that is too much triangulation, to incremental. i'm going to be post partisan and transcendent and visionary.
now he is not running as an antidote, he is running as the inheritor. i am the one to carry the clinton creek forward. he gets back and he also gets with that, the restoration. that can't help but help hillary clinton if she decides to run in 2016 which everyone around her think she is going to do. at one me to do obama? -- want me to do obama? he gets the most widely respected and almost neutral economic orbiter, the highest approval rating, 69% who is taken and associated with this period of peace. he can talk owls down from the trees. the best spokesman in the history of the world. and to make his case for working-class and middle-class voters. they found it hard reach as a
candidate in 2008 and as president. he gets a huge boost toward his reelection. he gets a big boost in what will be a very tight race. tavis: what does it say about our politics that the first african american president, even after one term, still leave the white guy to get him elected to a second term? >> i think bill clinton will set the default is barack obama's. you hear all these things about president clinton, about how he doesn't take care of his daughters and dozen jews enough on capitol hill. he thinks that president obama has failed to go out and sell the policies of the country. to make a clear and convincing educational argument for the obviously clear choice for electing -- is being elected president.
barack obama gets the big stuff right and doesn't do the easy stuff out all. what he means by that, here is a guy with extraordinary communicative capacity. what he said before charlotte was that people need education, not eloquence. his frustration with president obama is that he has not done that. he would be able to make this case on its own. tavis: other questions, you mentioned barack obama wanting to the post-partisan. barack obama doesn't really care about the infrastructure and the party -- the party politics. how does bill clinton's reemergence put him back in charge of fastening how the dnc moves forward?
>> until hillary clinton decides what to do, the field will be wide open. a lot of donors in the country are not going to put anybody behind anybody until they know what her move is. if she decides to run, she will be, almost by acclamation, the democratic nominee. there is a much loved, a sense that they may very typical choice between two historic possibilities that it is time for a woman, and this is the woman. because president obama doesn't particularly care about choosing a successor and has never been interested in the party structure, the clintons together will become the to 800 pound gorillas or the 1,600 pound twin guerrilla that will be at the absolute center of gravity for
the democratic party. tavis: it is hard to find anybody better at this, the author of the best seller "game change." and the author of a new magazine, bill and hillary forever. i'm sure they love the title. thank you for your time. that is our show for tonight, you can download the application next time -- as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with -- following the debate at a look at why social issues have not played a major role in this campaign. that is next time, see you then. >> there is a saying that dr. king had said, there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life
every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. >> be more. pbs. pbs.